Applying for Jobs? Don’t Do These 3 Things

Applying for jobs can be daunting and time-consuming. The tech interview and hiring process often takes weeks (or months!), and there’s no guarantee of success. But you can make life easier on yourself throughout… so long as you avoid these three key errors when applying for new roles.

You don’t have to look hard to find tales of people applying for hundreds of tech jobs, only to land just a few interviews. It’s not limited to the tech industry, either; for example, a nonprofit director built a job-application bot to handle their load… and things didn’t go well, to put it mildly.

When it comes to mistakes made when applying for jobs (tech or not), here are a few things you’re probably doing – but shouldn’t.

Cover Letters Matter When Applying for Jobs

Does the application process ask for a cover letter? Did you write one? More to the point: Did you write one specific to that company and/or job you’re applying for?

Most of us have a single cover letter we seed with all job applications. That’s the wrong move. Not only are you setting yourself up for mistakes (such as mentioning the “engineering role” when you’re interviewing for a Project Manager position), but recruiters and hiring managers can tell you’re phoning it in.

Not writing a cover letter specific to the job shows you’re not trying very hard. If the recruiters or managers aren’t captivated by your words, they’ll move along to the next applicant.

Some generic language covering your work history or personal interests are fine, but as we all know, the dream of “write once, apply everywhere” is dead, even with cover letters.

Try Not To Spread Yourself Thin

It’s tempting to do like many others and apply to any job that comes your way. Your experience and skillset check the necessary boxes for many positions, so you fire off a résumé and cover letter. You may do this hundreds of times, hoping your wide net snares some leads.

We won’t say you shouldn’t cast a wide net, but we will advocate for knowing your audience. We also suggest having at least a handful of jobs you are focused on getting, at companies you actually want to work for. (These are the jobs and companies you should know a lot about.) This is a great time to preemptively look for red flags by doing your research, such as checking a company’s Glassdoor reviews.

When possible, the best choice is to apply for 5-10 jobs you really want, and not to try to get anything you can. But even if you’re casting a wide net, try to have a few jobs you prefer, and put some extra effort into those. When it comes time to interview, others in the room will see you’re interested in the job, and have done your diligence.

First Cover Letter Dice

Don’t Be Van Halen

The tale of Van Halen’s “no brown M&Ms backstage” contract request is widely believed to be a story of rockstar excess. It was actually a line-item to make sure promoters read their contract; if something so outlandish as eliminating brown M&Ms was noticed, the major issues (like having a stadium prepared adequately for the crew) were definitely taken care of.

So what do tight leather pants and 80’s glam rock have to do with you? Like Van Halen, being a rockstar with weird demands is a bad look. And like Van Halen, your requirements should be necessary, not just present for the sake of ego.

Do you want to work from home? Sure, why not… but if a company doesn’t offer it, don’t hold it over their head as a requirement for hiring you. Maybe the office has sit/stand desks, which is awesome, but you prefer a different model of office equipment. Don’t be a prima-donna and demand they supply you with your favorite stand desk and a Steelcase chair for those times you want to rest.

It’s one thing to let an employer know about important events ahead of hiring, such as your annual family reunion the second week of June every year, but demanding superfluous items or perks the company doesn’t offer is something else.

Bonus Tip: Handle Rejection Well

When searching for a job, you’ll get more rejections than acceptances. Instead of being upset when you’re rejected, handle it with grace… and be honest.

Internal recruiters or company HR folk like to keep a file on who may have interviewed well, or candidates who fell just short of their requirements. Replying kindly to a rejection email or call can keep your name bubbling at the top of their queue. Instead of a snide ‘thanks anyway’ or ignoring the email altogether, take a moment to collect yourself, then reply with warm wishes.

Being honest and open is a good move, here. If you’re sad the company didn’t hire you, say as much, and wish them the best moving forward. If you felt the job was a bit over your head, let them know you understand, and that you hope they found someone with a touch more experience.

Don’t be bitter. Remember, you’ve probably got dozens of other companies looking at your résumé, too. There’s always another chance.

18 Responses to “Applying for Jobs? Don’t Do These 3 Things”

  1. What about the sleeze in the recruiting business? You’ve got a huge number of bad actors out there. That’s just recruiters. Many companies are the biggest slime balls!

    They take their time and drag their feet. They don’t care that you’re a human being with a family. But this is where I think they should care.

    It’s the point where humanism and business intersect. HR departments are clueless when it comes to screening people for technical roles. Let the hiring manager perform the screening. In fact, HR departments are only good with paperwork, benefits, payroll and on-boarding.

    Long & short, applicants are treated like sh-t. Every day, many, many technical/IT pros get a gazillion calls from Indian recruiters. Vastly more calls from Indian recruiters than American recruiters.

    Yet, no one ever brings this up in any of the articles. Never!! What’s up with that?? I’m not disparaging any group, but it’s a fact!!

    • Just wanted to chime in. Thank you, thank you, thank you.Me personally, (many would not do this I know), The past year I have had 3 recruiters, all corporate based lie about trying to contact me, I understand IT game, been in it since 1990, just spent 3 years in college @ 50, getting 5 CompTIA certs (I actually tutor them now at same school), MSTA, also took all courses for CCNA R&S, CCNP and CCNA Security. The recruiters working for staffing companies are pretty decent, they have hard job and I respect that. So, the 3 corporate based – again not many would do this, I actually contacted upper mgmt reporting their behaviors, one of the 3 companies wanted to interview, I declined. IT is huge business these days, I don’t condone going to my extreme, but if I am asked to setup a time for phone interview, I make myself available. 2 of the 3 got reprimanded, Glassdoor is a very powerful tool. I respect people’s time – my BIGGEST pet peeve is if you give me your word you will at least let me know if I got offer or not, that is great. More times than not, not even a callback, I track them down phone or email and almost always get answer, I ask for feedback, my latest did not expect me to call him, completely caught him off guard, no feedback. His response “I was not fit for his department”. Ok, moved on.
      My biggest issue – I can navigate the waves of recruiters, finally just letting it go, it is what it is, reflects on their or hiring managers professionalism, but I used to WASTE my time with Personality Tests of various kinds. Me personally, I am a little loud, but get along mostly with everyone, literally thought had to do these “tests”, but recently discovered, via another online source – I can simply let them know I prefer to wait until after initial interview or phone interview. I did that 2 times, both average jobs, never heard back from them. I really try, thus reason I brought this up and f needed will make mention to HR Director actions of some of the employees – I have 20 ears IT experience, 6 certs, knocking down # 7, there are plenty of jobs I don’t worry about being “blacklisted” as they say. I am far from the perfect candidate for certain roles, if I see walking into it, I just walk away. I am open to feedback for interviews from all, but I am one of the best employees one will find, spent 3 years full time in college getting my skills current. Majority of the hiring managers don’t even have one cert? So, I am looking, many rejections, it is hard on me, I have no family, 50 years old and nothing put away for retirement, but don’t waste my time on personality tests, or something I am under qualified on. I don’t like to admit not liking the corporate games, I try to be friendly to all, but unfortunately life is up and down. I apologize upfront, but I read this and felt compelled to reply. Good luck with job search, it is a game. 🙂

    • Sviatoslav

      I’m developer and dad, I changed location to Raleigh, NC, for better quality of life for kids, and everyday I’m getting 10-15 calls(90-95% Indians), and looks like they make job-plan for managers only, lots of jobs in web, but one month gone and I start to understand how its hard nowadays to find IT job in USA. I’m doing 8-10 hours “job search” shift for just find decent job(and only 2+ hours for coding and improve skills, things I love to do). Reality starts to look like some sort of Fool-land, how to survive with jobs in area for 10-15$ per hour and some “unreal 50$+” on horizons of nowhere! So, if true, write please, how to get to this 50$+ jobs, with 14+ years experience(and 4+ years in development)? This is a reality of 21 century everywhere scam…

  2. Jesse B.

    This is decent advice, but in my experience, I do not reply back to rejection letters. If they don’t want me, our time is done and I am not going to go beg them for a second chance in follow-up emails. I simply move on with my job search, because I don’t care to waste my time (or theirs) with the agony of my defeat.

    If someone has *actually* gotten further employment at a company by responding to a rejection letter, let me know.

    • Allan R

      Jesse B, I believe that responding to a rejection letter is to be courteous to the one you were seeking a job from. I have received jobs from this exact response. I few weeks after I received the rejection letter I was contacted. It turned out that the person they planned to hire did not pass the on-boarding verifications. The HR person stated that they remembered my thank you letter and called me to see if I was still available. Sometimes it pays to be nice and it costs us nothing.

    • Jeff G

      Jesse, rejection is hard to take and certainly does not help the ego. That said looking for a job is “a job” and certain things can set you apart. My most recent job search was long, painful, and at times disheartening. Whenever I got a rejection, whether just from applying, after a screening interview, or further in the process I always sent a thank you letter with some specifics about the situation. Did it help? I got a call back from one employer about a different position a couple of months after my first contact with them, though I did not end up with that job either. In a second instance, I applied for a similar position 6 months after my first rejection. I got a callback and eventually was offered the position. Did my thank you play a part – well let’s just say it did not hurt.

  3. My experience is that most times I don’t get a ‘rejection’ letter or email. I also don’t get the interviewers email to be able to contact them in that event. I end up contacting the recruiter to try to find out if it was yay or nay. Most of them don’t want to let you know it was no or why it was no.

  4. Lee R.

    The job application process is very time consuming, particularly when complying with recommendations to customize your resume and cover letter for each position. Particularly annoying (and time consuming) is filling out online forms with information that is listed on your resume. The auto scanners, even with a resume formatted especially for that technology, are crap. Invest all that time for an application, trying to put your best foot forward, and nine times out of ten all of that work is submitted into a black hole. Every once in a while a form letter e-mail that acknowledges receipt of the application, on rare occasions a thoughtful rejection message. The corporate side of job hunting is full of do this and don’t do that advice, and pitifully short on common sense and courtesy. Your article just adds another drop to the advice bucket that is unlikely to improve success.

  5. Lawrence Weinzimer

    Rule of thumb here: Definitely follow up once, if no solid results from the interview process. Right, don’t thank HR for rejection, because chances are very slim you’ll ever turn their negative skyward. It’s also best to realize that not applying duplicatively with same rejecting organization makes sense. At least until -you gauge the time – has elapsed.

  6. Chris Fox

    Don’t just apply to posted jobs. Send you cover letter and CV to companies you want to work for.

    Posted jobs get hundreds or thousands of applicants. But a lot of jobs remain unfilled because HR people don’t know how to find applicants.

  7. Michael Senatore

    Bill, You could have said what you said with one third of the verbiage. You should collect your thoughts and convey them succinctly. If you ramble on at your interviews as you did in your reply to Ron, it could be part of what hurts your interview process.

  8. Now I have to chime in. There seems to be a way to anger people very quickly which leads to not getting hired. It’s called following correct job etiquette. In one case on a job interview (as the wedding planner) I not only aced the interview but had several ideas to increase profits by unused space and ways to continue the rainy day weddings instead of just pulling them inside. Keep in mind I’d done this job for many years so of course I knew much more than the assistant manager who was a twenty something gorgeous lady. Unfortunately, she was threatened by me after her manager was thrilled with me. After the interview I wrote a nice follow up email to her (hoping to smooth things over) but she never replied. I should’ve emailed the manager instead.